We’ve all seen good and bad presentations. Good presentations are engaging; you want to hear what the speaker has to say next. Bad presentations leave you easily distracted, checking your blackberry for messages… You’ve read all of the bullets on that slide before the speaker has finished with the first one and you’re tuned out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Part of changing the way we use presentation visuals is changing the mentality of how we present. It’s about learning how to talk to the audience instead of talking at (or reading from) your slides. It’s about telling stories to engage your audience and make your presentation feel more personal.
So my first piece of advice is as old as the Old Testament itself. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or more directly, “Never give a presentation you wouldn't want to sit through yourself."
Look at your own presentations with a self-critical eye. Would you want to look at those slides? Can you read them easily? What do they communicate to you? After you move to the next slide, what do you remember about the previous slides?
From a visuals perspective, the first thing you need to understand is that the slides in your PowerPoint presentation are there to “support” the things you say, not repeat them. If all you’re going to do is read your slides to the audience, there’s really no point in you being there. They can read the slides themselves far more efficiently. At that point, you’re not giving a presentation, you’re doing a “live reading” of your report.
Which leads us to this: presentations aren’t reports. Documents often masquerade as presentations, or “slideuments.” Remember, reports should be distributed; presentations should be presented.
While documents and reports are very valuable, they don’t need to be projected for the purposes of hosting a “read-along.” It’s more comfortable and less time-consuming to present flat, data-driven static reports. But that approach doesn’t connect people to ideas. That approach doesn’t “sell” the ideas to the audience.
What should your visuals accomplish? They’re there to help your audience understand and remember the things you are telling them. Each slide is there to help explain or drive home your key point at that moment, the things you want them to remember after your presentation is done.
So what’s the best way for your slides to support the words you say? How can I transform my presentation from a “slideument” into a compelling presentation? How can I create a “visual home run?”
The home run is easy to describe: You put up a slide. It triggers an emotional reaction in the audience. They sit up and want to know what you’re going to say that fits in with that image. Then, if you do it right, every time they think of what you said, they’ll see the image (and vice versa). For example, an image of a dog wearing colored goggles on the screen while you talk about not viewing a project through rose-colored glasses leaves the audience with a memorable image to remind them of that takeaway point. On the flip side, an image of business men shaking hands when you talk about teamwork is so cliché it has minimal impact.
Noted marketing blogger Seth Godin argues that marketers need to convince emotionally and rationally. Some of the rational sale can be achieved using detailed handouts, but your presentation visuals are there to make an emotional sale. The document is the proof that helps the intellectuals in your audience accept the idea that you’ve sold them on emotionally. In an interview, your proposal (and maybe your leave-behind) was the proof for intellectuals. The interview is where you make your emotional sale.
So… communicate ideas with your voice, support your ideas with the visuals. Don’t make people read large blocks of text on the screen behind you. It’s boring. The only thing more boring would be you reading those blocks of text to them.
Slides courtesy of Greg Wells. Image 1—JupiterImages: | Image 2—thinkstock: | Image 3—JupiterImages: thinkstock | Image 4—shutterstock: | Image 5—thinkstock: